Texans Fitness Corner

Welcome to Dan Riley's seventh installment of Texans Fitness Corner. The response continues to be overwhelming. Dan responded to five of the questions this time around and we will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to fitness@houstontexans.com.

NOTE:Before engaging in any new physical activity, always consult your physician.

*I am a high school sophomore. I lift three to four hours every day. I alternate lower and upper body workouts so my muscles don't get overworked. For the last month or two it's been really hard to finish my workouts because of a lack of strength to continue. A lot of guys take creatine and protein shakes. What should I do? *

-- Luke

Talk with your parents and maybe your doctor about how you feel physically. Make sure there is no illness or anemia.

I have two sons who have finished high school and college. Both competed as athletes. If you were my son I would tell you I'm proud of how hard you are willing to work, however, you are spending way too much time in the gym. I'm sure you can get the same, or better results, with less time. This will give you more time for other things.

My first bit of advice is to bring two stopwatches to the gym the next time you work out. Use one watch to track exercise time and the other to track rest time. Look at how much time you spend resting between exercises and how much time is spent actually exercising.

Going to the gym is a social event for some people. They spend more time socializing than exercising. They enjoy the camaraderie in the gym setting. Some have never been part of an athletic team. There is nothing wrong with that. In the past it was my goal to find out how muchexercise our players could perform and continue to make gains.

This often led to over training. They'd feel tired and sluggish before starting a workout. They would exhibit the same difficulty you find in finishing a workout. Some would even begin losing strength.

When a player reached a point where he wasn't recovering, we'd tell him to take at least a week off. After taking time off most would come back and actually be stronger than they were when they left. Is that the key? Don't lift weights and gain strength? It was a sign of too much exercise and not enough recovery time.

The body is only capable of recovering from so much exercise. Exceed that amount and progress will be compromised or eliminated. We now teach our players that exercise (overload) is one half of the formula to getting stronger. The other half of the formula, and equally important, is rest. The key is finding a delicate balance between the right amount of exercise, and just the right amount of rest.

Remember, you cause metabolic damage when you lift weights. We used to say, "You tear down the muscle." You don't get stronger from lifting weights. If lifting were the key we'd lift seven days a week. Strength is gained during the recovery phase. Lifting is the stimulus, but without adequate recovery, progress is impossible. Too much rest and inadequate overload can also hinder progress.

Hans Selye, M.D., discovered the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.). Apply stress to a muscle and it will adapt. Apply too much stress over time and it fails to adapt (failure adaptation). Selye states, "Yet all we really know about this mysterious quantity (adaptation energy) is that constant exposure to any stressor will use it up. That much is certain; we can verify it with experiment. We can observe that anything to which adaptation is possible eventually results in exhaustion… Just what is lost we do not know, but it could hardly be the caloric energy (food) – which is usually considered to be the fuel of life – because exhaustion occurs even if ample food supplies are available."

You don't lift weights to lose strength. As I matured professionally I stubbornly learned, it's not how much exercise you perform that generates the best gains. It's how you perform an exercise. I've observed many athletes perform non-productive exercise. Every rep, of every set, requires the body to expend energy. This supply of energy is limited. Don't waste it! After you've warmed up, make every set count.

You can eat all the food and supplements you want. It will not compensate for too much exercise.

My current philosophy is to find out how little exercise our players need to stimulate the best results. My advice to you Luke is to do the same. It sounds like your spending more time in the gym than necessary, not allowing enough recovery time, and expending too much energy.

Before experimenting with supplements I suggest you consider the following. Continue with the same workout program you have been using. There are two things I'd like you to change.

First, eliminate one set from each exercise you perform. For example, if you perform six sets of squats (if you do squats) eliminate one set. Perform five sets. If you perform five sets of the bench press, reduce it to four. Do this with every exercise in your routine.

Second, I want you to keep accurate records for each exercise and set. Record how much weight is used and how many good reps are completed. Continue this protocol for one month. At the end of the month one of three things will happen.

1. You will gain strength.

2. You will lose strength.

3. You will maintain strength.

From the above you can deduct the following. An increase in strength can probably be attributed to less work and more energy available to recover. A loss in strength could indicate you are continuing to perform too much exercise. Maintain strength and it's a sign that you can maintain strength by spending less time and energy in the gym.

Regardless of what happens, I now want you to eliminate another set from every exercise you perform and do this for a month. Keep accurate records. You have now eliminated a total of two sets from each exercise, from your original work out. If you are willing I'd like you to E-mail the Texans web site again and let me know how you are doing.

You are only 14 years old. Your ability to recover from exercise may not be as good as a more mature 16 year-old, and for sure not as good as the physically more mature lifters in the muscle magazines. Some athletes recover more effectively than others. This can be due to genetic makeup, age, eating habits, sleep habits, level of fitness, and many others we aren't aware of.

Remember, you are only 14 years old. The hormonal balance in your body is much lower than it will be when you are 16, than it will be when you are 18, than it will be when you are 21, and so on. Because of this you will generate better gains (with the same effort) as you grow older.

Be patient! Don't expect the same gains as someone else. They might be the same age chronologically; it's possible however for them to be more mature physiologically.

My advice is to spend less time in the gym. Stay healthy, good luck, Go Texans!

Reference: Selye, Hans, M.D., The Stress of Life, p.307, McGraw-Hill Book CO., New York, 1978.

I am 31 years old and in the U.S. Navy. Recently our fitness requirements have significantly increased. Our fitness test consists of pushups, sit-ups, and a 1.5-mile run. I have pretty good endurance but I have never been a fast runner. Is there a workout you could recommend that might help me with my speed?

-- Howard

Speed is a product of many genetic variables, some known and probably many more unknown. There are specific physical and neurological assets that elite speed athletes must possess. We all have a speed potential based upon our genetic makeup.

There are some things we can change and there are some things we have no control over. For example, the hamstrings are a muscle group located on the back of the upper leg. In a standing position they flex the lower leg. On all humans the hamstrings attach at the same spot (just below the buttocks). The hamstrings insert at a point below the knee at some point on the lower leg. This point varies among humans. The insertion point of a muscle is just like the door handle on a door. Place the door handle close to the hinges on the door creating poor leverage. It becomes difficult … and almost impossible to open the door.

Place the door handle away from the hinges toward the outside of the door and leverage is maximized. It becomes much easier to open the door. Our muscles and bones operate in the same manner. There is an ideal position for the hamstrings to insert on the lower bone based upon the length of the upper and lower leg.

A noted expert in biomechanics once stated the difference between and among the top ten sprinters in the world could be the insertion point of the hamstrings. With all things being equal, one centimeter could provide a decided mechanical advantage. The hamstrings help pull the body across the ground. They contribute significantly to running fast.

Howard, you can't change where your hamstrings insert on the lower leg. You can't alter the length of your upper and lower legs to create better leverage. You can't change how the nervous system innervates your muscular system. You can't change your ratio of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. There are many other things you can't change about your profile of physical qualities needed to run fast.

There are some things you can do to help you reach the speed potential that your genetic potential allows.

1. Eliminate excess body fat. Fat insulates and helps make you buoyant. Good for long distance swimming in cold water. On land excess fat will slow you down.

2. Strengthen the muscles used to run. Some athletes possess enough strength naturally that additional strength doesn't help them run faster. Some athletes experience a change. Exhaust all possibilities and increase lower body strength. Some athletes use resistive running to do this. Hill training, stadium steps, towing tires, parachutes, etc.

3. Develop the requisite level of flexibility you need to allow you to run your fastest.

4. Refine your stance/start techniques (if it is a short sprint).

5. Eliminate unsound running techniques. Vertical displacement, head should remain level while running. Bouncing up and down while you run interferes with horizontal running. Eliminate rotating the torso from side to side. Do not over stride. Emphasize prolonged stride behind the body.

6. Develop the level of conditioning to allow you to run your fastest.

7. Practice running fast! This is the biggest mistake some athletes make. They never practice running their fastest until the actual event. Set aside at least one workout a week to practice running your fastest.

You didn't mention in your question if you wanted to improve your speed in the 1 ½-mile run or in shorter bursts of speed similar to an obstacle course or short sprint. We do know speed is very specific. We've observed many athletes with good straight-line speed, yet couldn't change direction well. Some athletes can run forward fast but can't backpedal very well. If you have a specific speed event you are trying to improve, make sure you practice that specific event.

We have a variety of workouts we use to develop a conditioning base to help you run faster. You'll find you'll run faster by getting in better shape. I'm going to give you two interval workouts. The first workout we call "200's,' and the second we call "Conditioning 40's." Our "200's" workout can be performed on a track, a treadmill, or a stationary bike. Below is a description of how we run our 200's on treadmills. Practice mounting and dismounting at progressively faster speeds to develop the skill needed to safely get on and off.

Treadmill 200s

Equipment used: Treadmill

Exercise time: 30 seconds

Rest interval: 1 minute 15 seconds

Speed: Determined by current fitness level

Grade: Running angle determined by current fitness level and the upper end speed of the treadmill available.

Number of reps: 10

Volume of work: 1500 yards (@ 10 mph) to 2000 yards (@ 15 mph).

Your current fitness level will determine the treadmill speed. Be conservative initially. Run at a speed that allows you to finish all 10 reps before increasing speed. Warm-up properly before beginning your workout.

To begin, mount the treadmill and run for 30 seconds. Dismount the treadmill and rest for 1 minute and 15 seconds. Be prepared to remount the treadmill at the end of the rest interval. Continue this process until you have finished 10 reps. Cool down for 3 minutes at 3 mph. When you can complete 10 reps at the same speed, increase the speed of the treadmill by ½ mph the next time you run 200s.

If your treadmill doesn't have enough speed for your fitness level, use grade to increase the difficulty of the workout. Increase grade by 2%. For example, let's say your treadmill only goes 12 mph, and you just finished 10 200s. The next workout run at 12 mph @ 2% grade. When you can finish 10 reps at 2% grade raise the treadmill deck to 4% grade, and so on.

Another running routine you can try is a shorter distance workout we call "Conditioning 40's." This workout is performed outdoors on a dry field.

Conditioning 40s

Equipment used: Football field

Exercise time: We have standards we use by position. We use an electronic timer to time our players. You can have a partner use a stopwatch to help you try and keep the same pace each time you run a 40-yard sprint.

Rest interval: 30 seconds

Number of 40s: 14

Volume of work: 560 yards

Warm-up thoroughly. Make sure you are in good enough shape to sprint. During this workout you will run one set of 14 x 40 yard sprints. From a stance, sprint 40 yards. After crossing the finish line continue coasting for another 40 yards and turn around and get ready to run in the opposite direction you just ran. The 30-second rest interval begins as soon as you cross the finish line. At the end of the 30-second rest period sprint 40 yards. After crossing the finish line continue coasting for another 40 yards and turn around. Get ready for the next 40. Continue this protocol until you have completed 14 x 40 yard sprints.

You aren't getting ready to run a 100-meter best ever. My advice to you is to get in shape to run faster, and practice running faster. There are many ways to accomplish this. Best of luck and Go Texans!

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